One of the problems with virtual reality programs is that “movement” within the virtual reality worlds is caused by computer control, a stroke of a computer key or the toggle of a joy stick. That fact would tend to detract from the experience of being in a virtual world.
A company called VirtuSphere, located in Redmond, Washington State, would seem to have solved this commong virtual reality problem. The VirtuSphere system consists of a large, hollow sphere mounted on a special platform of twenty five supporting wheels that pivot in any direction connected by computer to a head display worn by the player. The player experiencing virtual reality is inside the sphere and can walk in any direction. The head display would show him walking through the virtual reality world, just as a person would walk through the real world. A special manipulator allows the player to interact with objects in the virtual world. The VirtuSphere is, in effect, a primitive version of the holodeck, made famous by the TV show Star Trek.
The applications for the VirtuSphere are only limited by the imagination. One could take virtual reality tours through museums, tourist attractions, even entire cities. Indeed, one could visit a virtual reality city as it existed in history, Imagine being able to “walk” through ancient Rome or medieval London, without leaving ones own place or time. One could “visit” historical events or even other worlds in virtual reality, for recreation or education purposes.
The possibilities for gaming and other recreation are also endless. One could play Dungeons and Dragons (or any of its innumerable clones) inside a virtual reality word. Shoot ’em up games, such as Doom, would take on new dimensions of thrills and excitement when played inside a virtual reality world.
The VirtuSphere can be used as a training tool, especially for people in hazardous occupations such as police or the military. Police and soldiers could hone their combat skills in perfect safety, in any virtual reality situation that trainer can come up with. A SWAT team member would be able to “walk” in a virtual reality building before having to take the real one. A soldier would be able to become familiar with a virtual reality city before going into battle in the real place. Firefighters could deal with simulated fires and other situations in the virtual reality world.
The VirtuSphere can also be a fitness training tool, allowing one to job or run through virtual reality environments. Professional athletes can train or the casual exerciser can maintain a health regime inside a virtual reality world.
At the present time, a VirtuSphere system costs about a hundred thousand dollars, a bit steep for most individual gamers, but not for amusement parks, arcades, museums, or other corporations. VirtuSphere is already being used in a variety of ways by companies and institutions as diverse as Intel, CyberCup 2005, the Central Museum of Communications, St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunications, the Moscow 2012 Olympic Bid Committee, Taftneft Oil and Gas Museum, Polytechnic Museum and the Tourism Office of the Moscow City Government. Some models have also been sold to police organizations and the military, including the Office of Navy Research which is very enthusiastic in its potential to train Marines.
The VirtuSphere weighs in a just under five hundred pounds. It can be transported, disassembled, in the bed of a pickup truck. It takes about four man hours to assemble. When the VirtuSphere become generally available, it is hoped that it will be sold in the United States for between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand dollars.